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Around the Bend: Disc golf throws players a curve

Last weekend my husband Mark and I spent two nights over in Warren, thus honoring our longstanding custom of getting away alone together once every 19 years. While there, we went tubing down the Mad River (easy), tried paddle boarding on Blueberry Lake (a bit more work) and, best of all, played disc golf at Sugarbush (nearly impossible).
Until Saturday, I had never even heard of disc golf, but apparently it’s quite popular among people who can throw Frisbees straighter than we can. And it’s a real thing: There is a Professional Disc Golf Association and there are rules, regulation courses and official discs that look like small Frisbees (but which, being official, of course cost much more).
The 18-hole summit course at Sugarbush, according to Wikipedia, “is rated by the PDGA as the third most difficult in the country.” Having played it, I can only assume that Nos. 1 and 2 must be at the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls.
The object of the game is to advance your disc a few hundred feet to the “hole” — actually a receptacle somewhat like a wire basket on a short pole — in as few throws as possible.However, when you are new to disc golf and are playing it on ski trails on the side of a very steep, thickly wooded mountain, you will soon learn that trying to make par is the least of your worries. Your primary concern is finding the disc in the woods after each throw without losing your footing and careening end over end down the mountain, bouncing off tree trunks as you go.
For me, the initial challenge was just getting to the top of the mountain. I don’t trust chair lifts and I have a fear of heights. So while I clung to the lap bar and tried not to black out, Mark turned around and marveled at the magnificent vista opening up as we gained elevation. If I’d been confident that I wouldn’t (a) throw up or (b) slide under the lap bar and fall to my death, I might have been awed too.
Once we reached the top, I avoided staring too long at the base lodge, which looked like a Lego from up there. Instead I focused on finding the first tee. All we had to do was throw our discs toward the basket. Simple.
How naïve we were.
Mark’s throws started off level, then veered precipitously into the underbrush on the left. And I, a southpaw, sent all my throws into the woods on the right. Now we understood why the woman at the ticket desk had encouraged us to buy orange or red discs and had specifically warned us against anything “fern-colored.” We spent a lot of time among the ferns.
We also crawled through underbrush, traversed mountain streams and muddy ditches and picked our way through brambles looking for our discs. For their part, the course designers kept things interesting by siting the baskets behind large trees, in front of wolverine dens and on nearly vertical inclines, so even if a disc miraculously went in, retrieving it required guts and agility — and occasionally rappelling equipment.
Hole by arduous hole we descended the mountain, our legs growing increasingly wobbly on the sharply pitched terrain. Our playing didn’t improve much, but we did get better at eyeballing where our discs had entered the forest; often we located them in only 10 to 12 minutes.
We made it back to the base lodge several hours later, triumphant.
I don’t mean we came in under par; we gave up on that by the second hole, when Mark’s disc took an unplanned trip into the trees and down a 40-foot embankment, prompting a half-hour search.
The triumph was that we had returned with our discs in hand, a feat the ticket lady had said couldn’t be done.
We were, however, muddy and covered in scratches, with fern fronds poking out of our sneakers. The steep descent had left Mark limping from the impact on his knees and reduced me to walking on my tiptoes, my calves having clenched themselves into knots.
My takeaway? While the Sugarbush disc golf experience was nothing short of grueling, it was also the most fun we’ve had in years. We can’t wait to play again.
We won’t get the chance for several weeks at least, but that’s probably for the best. It’s been five days, and we still can’t walk down the stairs without wincing.

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